Cheese Tasting

Last month I had a great treat when Giovanni Ferraris, the maître d’ of the Eden Roc hotel in Ascona, Switzerland, took us to a cheese-tasting at the affineur Luigi Guffanti, in Arona, Italy. Guffanti, established in 1876 and still run by descendants of the founder, deals only with the best restaurants and hotels.

The care taken over each cheese is extraordinary. Erborinato artigiano, for example, uses cow’s milk from both night and morning milkings for the difference in taste and creaminess; the 1999 Parmigiano Riserva is five years old (the firm buys and keeps it all this time so the small producer can be viable).

Yet I preferred the cheaper two-year-old Parmigiano di montagna Appennini?which demonstrates the value of serious tasting. I loved the Robiola delle Langhe al tre latti, a fresh cheese of mixed cow’s and ewe’s milk, and hated the rank animal taste of Toma alpeggio val Formazza, made 1,800m up in the Alps.

So why not organise your own cheese-tasting with friends? Ask a cheesemonger to recommend 10 or so cheeses. Blind tastings are good as no one is swayed by price or snobbishness, but each cheese should be finally tried with details revealed.

Patricia Michelson of La Fromagerie (020?7359 7440) buys direct from Guffanti, so that is a good start; otherwise try Paxton & Whitfield (01608 652090) and Neal’s Yard Dairy (020?7240 5700) in London, Ian J. Mellis (0131?447 8889)or Valvona & Crolla (0131?556 6066) in Edinburgh and the Fine Cheese Company (01225 448748) in Bath.

This article first appeared in Country Life on July 28, 2005.